A disabled veteran in the Atlanta area started an incredible program that keeps the kids in her neighborhood away from gangs and teaches them to care for homeless pets.
Disabled veteran, Grace Hamlin, started W-Underdogs when she witnessed local gangs trying to recruit children in her Atlanta-area neighborhood. Determined to make a change, she started inviting the kids to come in and take photos with the dogs in her care and to help clean up after them. It wasn’t long before the program grew into something really special.
The W-Underdogs is an innovative grassroots non-profit organization that pairs underserved youth in the Peoplestown/South Atlanta neighborhoods with animals in need. The program helps youth at risk for gang involvement to gain leadership, responsibility, life skills, and compassion through working with animals.
“We teach the kids how to manage, care and train dogs and cats and vet them as needed. They learn personal discipline and responsibility as they rehabilitate the animals. They learn how to care for animals and in turn, how to care for themselves and compassion for others.”
Kids in the program help care for stray dogs and cats, build dog houses and cat trees from scraps and materials found on the streets, help train dogs so they can one day be adopted, and distribute free pet food to local families in need.
Since starting the organization, Grace and the kids at W-Underdogs have saved 300 dogs. But, the impact this program has made on the community and in the future is immeasurable.
The kids learn skills that they are not currently learning within their home environment. The program aims to help them see beyond their immediate environment, while teaching the skills to cope with its challenges more successfully. In addition, the kids learn valuable skills that them employable as groomers, trainers, and vet assistants. When they change an animal’s life, they change their own.
Saving the animals, in effect, saves the kids.
W-Underdogs’ founder Grace Hamlin was recently recognized by The Petco Foundation and world-renowned pet behavior expert Victoria Stilwell as an Unsung Hero for her lifesaving efforts on behalf of animals.
“There are heroes in every community who dedicate their lives to helping animals and are true lifesaving champions,” said Susanne Kogut, president of the Petco Foundation. “Honoring a few of these people and telling their stories is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to all of them. And perhaps these stories will inspire others to become heroes for animals, too.”
“Seeing firsthand the outstanding work being done by these people in their communities was truly inspiring,” said Stilwell. “It was a tremendous honor capturing on tape the spirit and passion of what they do every day, and I’m very excited for a wider audience to witness their amazing work via the Unsung Heroes video series.”